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Herding and Shearing Sheep

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

The March 1, 1908 issue of The Wyoming Industrial Journal reports:

Speaking in the Review of Reviews for March, Arthur Chapmann interestingly handles the sheep business and especially the herder and shearer of the flocks. He says the following.

Naturally the central figure is the sheep herder. He is the man upon whom the owner depends for the safety of an average flock from 2,000 to 2,500 sheep, which may be worth from $10,000 to $30,000. It has been the custom to look upon the sheep herder as the man who takes up the employment because he is ‘locoed’, or because he cannot do anything else. Nothing could be further from the truth. No sheep owner could not put so much responsibility on the shoulders of incompetent or irresponsible men.

The herders are selected from the best material the labor market has to offer, and are paid from $50 to $75 per month and board. The herder is furnished with everything he needs, and there is no limit to the quantity or quality of his fare. He is given carte blanche to order what the market affords, and the ‘camp tender,’ who comes with supplies once or twice a week, sees the order is promptly filled.

The sheep wagon, in which the herder lives in winter, is a veritable house on wheels. It is a canvas covered wagon, containing cookstove, bunk, cupboard and in short everything making life bearable for the herder. In one of these wagons a man can remain comfortable while the ‘norther’ rages without. In summer, while in the mountains, he lives in a tent, but this is all a man requires among such ideal natural surroundings.

In the spring, at lambing time, is the herder’s season of responsibility. It is then a May snow may wipe out a year’s crop of lambs, if the flock is caught in a bad place, and it is then the band must be closely guarded against the danger from coyotes and wolves. Care must always be exercised in changing feeding ground, lest the sheep get among poison weeds and die. Countless sheep have been lost in this manner, the herder being unaware of any danger until the poisoned animals began to drop by the score.

Sheep shearing brings to the front another interesting class of men – the shearers. These men begin their work in the south, where the shearing is early, and work north through the season, finishing their work in Montana and Canada.

The shearing is done early in the summer. The herders bring up their bands of sheep and run the animals into pens. The shearers in the pens grasp the animals and soon the keen knives are cutting through the wool. The fleece comes off almost in a single garment, so nearly do the skilled shearers work.

Despite the exhausting nature of the work, the men standing all day in a stooping posture, some astonishing records are made. One shearer, Frank Hewitt, of Saratoga, who is credited with being the champion shearer of the U.S., won a medal at the Chicago exposition, in competition with 19 other shearers, by shearing 100 sheep in three hours and 27 minutes. It is said this shearer turns out an average of 175 sheep a day through the shearing season.

With a dozen men shearing sheep with such rapidity, it is no wonder the wool is soon stacked high in sacks at the sheds, ready for shipment. About 100 sheep a day may be accepted as the general average for a shearer. The operators get eight cents per fleece, so it is seen their pay is relatively high, though it is none too much when one considers the exhausting nature of the work, the shortness of the shearing season and the traveling expenses going from one pen to another, frequently hundreds of miles.

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